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Zuma statue: Let's get the facts right

Feb 17 2017 15:19
Mandi Smallhorne

ZUMA Statue: A monument to corruption and unemployment, is the header of the Democratic Alliance statement: “The North West government’s tender, numbered CATA116/2016, to sculpt and build an enormous statue of Jacob Zuma, is a disgraceful waste of public money that will leave us with nothing more than a monument to corruption and unemployment.”

And yes, I’d agree with just about everything else you say there, Joe McGluwa (MPL DA NW leader). “To the people of Gopane, Zeerust, a statue of Jacob Zuma will go nowhere to solve their critical need for services, as water supply fails daily, waste water treatment plants lie unusable and broken, and the inhumane bucket system still plagues our people.”

But not with this: “…the North West wants to spend R6 million of public money to erect a statue …”

Because it appears this is an alternative fact. Go read the tender information, and you’ll see the North West government wants to erect a “6m lifelike bronze statue” of Zuma. Not six million rand, Joe McGluwa; six metres tall.

Today this ‘news’ is sparking disgusted, appalled, shocked comments about the waste of money in various feeds. Me myself, I think R6 for a statue of Zuma is probably more than anyone should spend, especially a province which is not doing too well on delivering services (I know of and have spent time in communities in North West which battle to secure the most basic of services).

Tomorrow or the next day, the DA will undoubtedly come out with a retraction. But too late. This claim will live on in cyberspace forever. Somebody, somewhere, will haul it out when they want to demonstrate excessive and wasteful expenditure.

Just like the claim made by one Gregg Phillips, that millions voted fraudulently in the November US elections. No proof, no evidence, nada, niks, nothing. But it has become a notorious alternative fact, touted by Trump and believed by millions, forcing Commissioner Ellen Weintraub of the Federal Electoral Commission to say that “President Trump has alleged an astonishing voter-fraud scheme” which would amount to “thousands of felony criminal offenses under New Hampshire law”, calling on the president to provide proof of this claim urgently.

A few days ago, a scientist friend and I were chatting via Facebook about the horrifying acceleration of climate change, now moving way faster than was predicted 20, ten, even five years ago.

Apart from some very evident changes at a macro level – like the record lows in Arctic sea ice and record highs in summer temperatures in Australia – there are the things that farmers and scientists are quietly recording: “Temperate plants are budding and flowering earlier in spring and later in autumn. Comparable adjustments have been observed in marine and freshwater fish spawning events and in the timing of seasonal migrations of animals worldwide.”

The great climate change con - or not

And then a middle-class Joburg businessman enters the conversation to tell us that all of this is a con – and he uses a decades-old ‘petition’ of over 30 000 signatures from scientists that don’t ‘believe’ in climate change. Except that this petition (which at one time included signatures of people like Geri Halliwell, that well-known climate scientist) has been pretty thoroughly debunked. For starters, the claim that these were all relevant scientists was a wash; only a minority of the signatures are those of people with PhDs in any relevant field.

If you do as I did and explore the names under just one letter of the alphabet, you’ll find the sort of mishmash I did: the list under K, for example, includes a job-lot of general practitioners, a few veterinary doctors, a paediatrician, a handful of psychiatry professors, a botanist who’s bred more than 20 tropical flowers, an English professor, the CEO of a small drug company, the VP of a construction company, a man who remodels bathrooms, and a woman who, according to her obituary, was well known for the pies and wedding cakes she baked.

The ‘30 000 scientists’ is very much an alternative fact, one that has been recycled for decades, in the teeth of overwhelmingly clear evidence of agreement among scientists in very relevant disciplines.

Why does this matter?

It makes a difference to what people think, how they vote, how they invest; it shifts policymakers’ positions on issues, and executives’ votes in the boardroom. It may do all of this only at a subliminal level, but the impact is meaningful – I once had a discussion with an executive who supported a very unsustainable energy option (he had turned down a more sustainable, and, oddly, economically viable mix of energy sources).

It became clear that it was this sort of backstory, washing around in the Zeitgeist, forming vague references in his mind, which really influenced his thinking, rather than any of the tightly argued and referenced documents he’d undoubtedly been exposed to over time.

So “we have to be more than vigilant. We have to fight back. We have to expose those who bear false witness for the false witness bearers that they are. And we have to do it in a straight forward, plainspoken way. Let's call them what they are: liars. Lying, lying liars.” (Al Franken, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them). (I wonder what Al, who was writing during the George Dubya era, is thinking now!)

And it doesn’t matter who it is who’s not speaking truth – we must call them out, whenever, wherever, whoever…

* Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. 24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

mandi smallhorne  |  opinion

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